State Bureau of Investigation detectives are going back ten years, examining thousands of documents, in their probe of potential financial crimes in the Wake County Register of Deeds office, SBI officials and the county district attorney told the INDY Monday.

This timeframe dramatically widens the scope of the investigation, which came to light when District Attorney Lorrin Freeman and county manager Jim Hartmann held a press conference March 31 to announce an SBI probe into financial irregularities in the Register of Deeds office.

“We’re trying to follow the trail back to see if we can find when this started, and we are at a ten-year scope,” Freeman says.

At the same March press conference, Freeman and Hartmann announced that Register of Deeds Laura Riddick, in office since 1996, had resigned her post because of poor health. At the time, Freeman cautioned against reading too much into the timing of Riddick’s departure. Hartmann said then that the financial irregularities had taken place during a period of a year or perhaps longer, citing January and February as the “material time.”

These new disclosures came after a former employee of the Register of Deeds office spoke Monday at a Wake County Board of Commissioners meeting, stating that he had reported potential malfeasance in the department and been forced to resign. Darryl Black, a former deputy director of the office, said he told his supervisors about discrepancies in transactions there eighteen months before the apparent missing funds came to light.

Freeman says Black has had several interviews with the SBI.

The Register of Deeds office handles about $14 million annually in fees and other payments. Apparently, money that was unaccounted for came from cash transactions at the office. Riddick and other employees of the office have been cooperating with the investigation, officials say.

“We continue to say, as I did from the beginning, that Ms. Riddick is certainly one of a number of people that was involved in the chain, and as a result has not been excluded,” Freeman says.

Among other points, Black suggested that commissioners bring in an independent auditor to examine records at the Register of Deeds office. Freeman says Wake County has already called one in.

Neither Black nor investigators explained how the theft of money from a public office could continue for such a long period.

“It’s not unusual for us in these cases to look at a five- or ten-year scope,” Freeman says. “We look at when there was first a loss. In terms of a projected timeline, I am hopeful by the end of this summer to move forward with wrapping up the investigation.”

Neither official estimated in March the amount of money that could have been taken. They simply called it a “substantial amount.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “+FOLLOW THE MONEY.”